Sustainable Travel

What does sustainable travel mean?

Sustainable travel is a complicated issue, and there is no silver bullet. Simply staying home is not the answer, particularly as travel can provide much-needed income for local communities who often otherwise have limited options. As responsible travellers, we need to prioritise the impact of our journey on the planet, on destinations and on the people that live there. Sustainable travel means, ultimately, protecting our earth so future generations can continue to enjoy it.

Read more about sustainable travel

Why is sustainable travel important?

  • To conserve the environment
  • To reduce our carbon footprint
  • To protect wildlife and its natural habitat
  • To support local economies
  • To mitigate the spiralling climate crisis
  • To champion cultural integrity and social justice
  • To understand and respect different cultures
  • To combat the effects of overtourism
  • To protect our planet for future generations
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What is the global impact of sustainable tourism?

As the world starts to wake up to the sheer scale of the problem, sustainable and responsible tourism is beginning to impact all areas of travel – accommodation, transport, tours, food and drink.

There are the small everyday steps for eco-conscious travel, such as replacing plastic water bottles with reusable alternatives, eating local and seasonal food, cutting back on meat and dairy, recycling, and using environmentally friendly products.

Then there’s the bigger picture, from greener transport, sustainable tourism destinations and eco-conscious accommodation to philanthropic projects that invest in the future of a place, its people, wildlife and habitat.

Browse through the tabs to learn more about:

  • The types of sustainable tourism
  • Sustainable development goals
  • Pillars of sustainable tourism
  • Sustainable destinations
  • Tips to be more sustainable




The Cobblers Cottage in the Cotswolds is a one of our carbon neutral holiday homes from our Sustainable Villa Collection

What are the types of sustainable tourism?

Sustainable tourism is a complex issue, and there is no easy answer, but as the climate crisis desolates our forests and oceans – destroying homes, lives and wildlife – we need to radically shift how we treat our planet, quickly. We have to think: how can we help, now and in the future, at home, and through our travels?

Responsible travel

Responsible travel is to invest in the future of a destination, its local communities and the biodiversity of its natural environment. One of the most impactful decisions we can make is choosing to visit sustainable travel destinations over honeypot cities, which are stretched almost to breaking point under the weight of overtourism.


The next step is researching the most sustainable way to travel to destinations. It might be choosing a European city you can travel to by train over a fuel-guzzling flight to the far-flung shores of Bali and, on arrival, choosing to explore the sights on foot or by bike instead of an air-conditioned tour bus. If you do want to travel a little further afield to destinations in Asia or the US, then try to find direct flights and be sure to offset your flights, whether that's with the airline themselves or off your own back.

Loch Lomond Manor, in Scotland, is one of our properties you can get by train. Discover many more holidays by train here.

Carbon “foodprint”

And then there’s our carbon “foodprint” – the ecological impact of what we eat. Ecotourism extends to buying local food and eating at responsible restaurants to help counter the harms of industrial agriculture and international freighting. This might be seeking out eco-conscious chefs, perhaps those that helm a zero-kilometre kitchen or operate a no-waste policy, and eating menus packed with ingredients from food markets, sustainably sourced fish and ethically farmed meat. Or, consider this staggering statistic released by the Vegan Society: if the whole world went meat-free by 2050, it would save eight million human lives and reduce greenhouse gases by two-thirds. Even if you don’t become a vegetarian, simply cutting back on meat and dairy, both at home and on your travels, will help.

Conservation projects

Tourism can be a force for good – if done right. Destinations that are facing an environmental crisis like a water shortage or an economic hardship can benefit from visitors, if they contribute to the community and local economy. A wave of conservation projects is making a difference to people and the planet, from beach clean-ups to school-building and habitat-restoration projects.

Travellers can be champions of cultural integrity and social justice, starting simply with considering how communities want their own cultures to be experienced. A crucial element of responsible tourism holidays is thinking more carefully about whose voices are heard when we learn about destinations.

What are the characteristics of sustainable tourism?

  • Community and conservation projects – meaningful travel that gives something back;
  • Green transport and slow travel – travelling wiser, staying longer and engaging more fully;
  • Leave no trace – make sure it is only footprints you leave behind;

  • Local, seasonal, simple – the slow-food movement that respects the land and sea;
  • Cultural integrity – how communities want their own cultures to be experienced;
  • Social justice and human rights – championing the voices that need listening to.

Sustainable development goals

In 2015, the UN set out 17 sustainable development goals to end inequality and extreme poverty, tackle climate change and halt the loss of biodiversity – all by 2030. Though it’s looking unlikely the ambitious objectives will be met within a decade, they are invaluable for future generations and our planet. Here is a selection of goals most relevant to sustainable tourism:

Take urgent action to combat climate change

Climate change is now affecting every country on every continent, costing lives, homes, wildlife and habitats. More people are turning to renewable energy and green technology, but to accelerate progress, countries adopted the Paris Agreement in 2016 with a shared goal to keep global temperature rise below 2°C. It’s time for us to get our heads around those same values in travel. As overtourism and carbon emissions continue to mushroom, we have to act quick. From carbon offsetting to train travel and green accommodation, the industry is beginning to shape up its act – but there’s plenty more to be done.  

While the 17 goals are all interconnected, Oliver’s Travels is focusing on the area it knows best – sustainable and responsible tourism. Committed to becoming the most environmentally progressive villa company in the world, Oliver’s Travels has set the goal to become carbon-neutral and be a force for positive change in the travel industry and wider communities, primarily focusing on this UN goal on climate action.

Langton Castle on the Scottish Borders can be reached by train. Discover many more holidays by train here.

Access to affordable and clean energy

Energy is central to everything from jobs to security and food production, and the future relies on renewable energy to build resilience against environmental issues like climate change.

Ensure responsible consumption and production

Consumers need to be more responsible in their choices, and production processes need to be transparent and committed to conserving the environment – not damaging it.

Protect our oceans and marine life

Better management of marine-protected areas along with new regulations to reduce overfishing, pollution and ocean acidification, and protect fragile ecosystems.

Look after our land

Forests cloak almost a third of the earth’s surface, not only providing food and shelter but also protecting biodiversity and helping to combat climate change. Halt deforestation and desertification to preserve our planet’s precious biodiversity.

If you're interested in learning more about all 17 sustainable development goals, head to the UN's website.

Sustainable goals at a glance

  • Climate action
  • Eradicate poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Good health and wellbeing
  • Quality education
  • Gender equality
  • Clean water and sanitation for all
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Decent work and economic growth
  • Investment in industry and innovation
  • Reduce inequalities
  • Sustainable cities
  • Responsible consumption
  • Protect our oceans
  • Preserve our planet
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions
  • Global partnerships

Pillars of sustainable tourism

The three pillars of sustainability are environmental, social and economic – or ‘plants, people and profits’. In short, sustainable tourism depends on balance; if any one pillar is weaker than the others, the whole structure is at risk of toppling.

Environmental sustainability

This pillar is about protecting the climate and our planet’s fragile biodiversity, so that future generations can continue to enjoy earth. Approaches include renewable resources, waste reduction, pollution control, and green technology and innovations. Yet the challenge is the vicious circle between wanting environmental sustainability and long-term economic growth – as short, economic-boosting industrialisation ravages the planet. On a global level, deforestation and desertification are devastating our forests and land, while climate change is triggering extreme weather events across the world.

Sustainable and responsible tourism is about minimising our impact on the planet. It’s about protecting our oceans by supporting ethical fishing practices and shunning single-use plastics. It’s about choosing greener transport and cutting back on long-haul flights, or at the very least carbon offsetting your journey. It’s about local, seasonal food and simple cooking. 

Social sustainability

Social sustainability concerns the wellbeing and quality of life of the inhabitants of a country. However, there is some disagreement about what the quality-of-life goals should be, with different ideas by different nations, political parties, religions, cultures, classes, activist organisations – and so on. Nonetheless, a good benchmark is acting in the best interests of people who share a community.

As considered travellers, we can contribute to social sustainability by ensuring our trips benefit those communities whose homes we are visiting. This might be putting our money in businesses that employ the people who already live there, thus paying directly into local economies. It could be choosing locally run rentals over international chain hotels or championing cultural integrity by engaging with local customs instead of Westernized tourist traps.

West Malling Manor in Kent can be reached by train and supports the local community. Discover many more holidays by train here.

Economic sustainability

Economic sustainability is a trickier one to define. While some describe it as the steady economic growth of a country, this doesn’t acknowledge the disparity between rich and poor communities. Besides, steady growth isn’t even possible forever. Therefore, it’s more representative to look at figures of those living beneath the poverty line – the minimum income to achieve an adequate quality of life. And even this is misleading. Compare the ‘poverty line’ of India – $1.25 a day – to the US - $30 a day. For a developed country like the US, this sum isn’t a matter of life and death, so a more accurate term might be ‘preferred minimum standard of living level’.

Responsible tourism holidays can play a big part in economic sustainability. If tourists choose local companies and buy locally made goods, they are helping to support the economy of local communities. However, economic profit is not sustainable if a business is detrimental to the environment and people who live there. So, we need to think carefully about where best to put our money. It could be renting a villa with renewable energy and proper recycling or investing in a tour operator that works to conserve the mountains and oceans they occupy – not destroy them. It might be shopping at independent artisan stores, so you’re lining the pockets of locals and not those of unscrupulous chancers shipping cheap goods or workforces in from other countries.

Pillars of sustainability at a glance

  • Environmental sustainability – protecting the climate and our planet’s fragile biodiversity, from renewable resources and pollution control to green technology and innovations.
  • Social sustainability – ensuring the wellbeing and quality of life of the inhabitants of a country by acting in the best interests of people who share a community.
  • Economic sustainability – the steady economic growth of a country and its people, with a focus on lifting poorer communities.

Sustainable tourism destinations

As more and more people wish to leave the lightest of footprints on their travels, destinations are rising to the challenge. A pioneer in sustainably paving the way for other countries is Palau, where visitors must pledge on arrival to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the Micronesian archipelago. Other sustainable tourism destinations are protecting natural resources, reducing energy consumption and preserving cultural integrity.


France is scattered with enchanting cities and towns with an eco-friendly tourism philosophy. Nantes is dedicated to repurposing abandoned urban spaces, from reimagining old banana warehouses as hip bars and restaurants, to transforming Île de Nantes from industrial shipyard to cultural hub. Angers, at the edge of the Loire Valley, has more than its fair share of green space, while Renne – the capital of Brittany – is a grow-your-own hotspot filled with flower gardens, vegetable plots and artisanal workshops. Famed for its wonderfully preserved Roman amphitheatre, Nîmes is as dedicated to the future as the past, protecting its historic core with traffic restrictions and public transport systems. Elsewhere, Dordogne is crammed with eco-friendly accommodation, Provence has a fine farm-to-table movement, and Loire Valley is preserved under UNESCO World Heritage status.

Chateau Beaucharm in Champagne promotes sustainable living.

The UK

The UK is rallying together to achieve carbon-neutrality, from the National Trust planning to plant 20 million trees over the next decade, to the UK’s committed investment in wind power. Sustainable travel destinations can be found along the length and breadth of the nation: Scotland has an ambitious project to restore the native woodlands, peatlands and rivers of Cairngorms national park, while the Cotswolds is a champion for the seasonal locavore food movement. Wales manages to walk the tightrope between tourism and conservation, from e-bike schemes for touring Elan Valley and marine-life protection centres in New Quay to a trio of national parks cloaking a fifth of Wales’ land surface.


With a staggering 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the highest in the world – Italy has planted a seed of ecotourism to sprout for future generations. Piedmont preserves a slow-food culture to appreciate the bounty of its land without destroying the natural habitat, while Sicily was one of the first places in Europe to create marine-protected zones and uses the same traditional farming methods today that have existed for centuries. Other wonderful sustainable tourism destinations include the Italian Lakes, whose natural beauty is best appreciated on bike or foot, and Tuscany and Puglia for their rich cultural heritage and rural viniculture.

Villa Ciottolo in Puglia is committed to renewable and green energy.


The Balearics are an ecological treasure trove. The spine of Mallorca is the UNESCO-protected Serra de Tramuntana, whose mountains not only offer cycling and hiking galore, but also provide natural resources for renewable energy. Mallorca’s sister island, Ibiza, is emerging as a year-round wellness destination, spreading the weight of tourism throughout the year. More than just a party hotspot, the White Isle is full of pristine nature reserves, including the untouched sea and coastal landscapes of Ses Salines Natural Park. Another Spanish archipelago determined to preserve the environment is the Canary Islands. Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park is a great example of eco-friendly tourism, where visitors can appreciate the lunarlike volcanic landscapes responsibly.


Champagne-coloured sandy beaches, vibrant cities, fine wine – it’s easy to see why Portugal has emerged as a travel hotspot in recent years. Though tourism has been a game-changer for the economy, this has not been without a cost. Local residents and businesses, in particular in Lisbon and Porto, have found themselves priced out of neighbourhoods. However, the government acknowledged the boom wasn’t sustainable, pledging to put locals first and spread tourism across the country and the seasons. They must be doing something right, as Lisbon scooped the 2020 European Green Capital Award for its excellent public transport, bike-sharing scheme and plentiful green space.

Sustainable tourism destinations at a glance

  • Destinations that protect their natural and cultural heritage include Sicily, one of the first places in Europe to create marine-protected zones, and Tuscany and Puglia for their beautifully preserved villages and traditional viniculture.
  • Early champions of ecotourism are Mallorca, whose UNESCO-protected Serra de Tramuntana offers cycling and hiking galore, and Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park where visitors can explore the volcanic landscapes without damaging them. Closer to home, Wales is an ambassador for ecotourism, with e-bike schemes, marine-life conservation centres and national parks among its many schemes.
  • Cities that are striving to reduce carbon emissions include Lisbon, the winner of the 2020 European Green Capital Award; Nîmes, which advocates public transport; and the UK, where the National Trust has an ambitious tree-planting scheme.
  • Champions of the slow food movement include Piedmont, whose chefs embrace the bounty of the land; Provence for its fine farm-to-table movement; and the Cotswolds with its focus on seasonal locavore menus.

How to be a sustainable traveler

To be a sustainable traveller you need to consider the impact of your journey – on the environment, on destinations and on local communities.

What is an example of sustainable travel?

The obvious place to start is flights and greenhouse gas emissions. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg is blazing a trail for environmental activism and is one of the young progressives behind the concept of flygskam, or “flight shame”.

Though a wave of next-gen innovators are currently working on blueprints for electric planes, until emission-free flying gets off the drawing board, you might want to rethink how often and where you fly to. Consider switching that fuel-guzzling long-haul flight with a “microcation”. These shorter trips are perfect for backyard destinations, and not only save money but also reduce your impact on the world.

Are trains eco-friendly?

If your destination is accessible by train, this mode of transport is the most sustainable way to travel. Not only does it have a much lower carbon impact than flying, but it’s also often incredibly scenic. Plus, travelling closer to home makes it’s easier to fit a weekend getaway or minibreak into a busy schedule. Have a look at our collection of villas that you can easily get to by train.

Brooks Cottage in Devon can be reached by train. Discover many more holidays by train here.

What is the most sustainable way to travel for people who want to fly?

Sometimes you can’t avoid travelling by plane, but you can choose fuel-efficient airlines and buy a carbon offset with your plane ticket to help fund tree-planting programmes in deforested areas or investment in alternative fuel sources.

If you must travel far, try to take nonstop flights to minimise the excess emissions caused by landing and take-off. On arrival, use public transport and adopt slow travel to minimise your carbon footprint.

Any other tips for the most sustainable way to travel?

To combat overtourism, consider staying in lesser-trodden towns and villages to ease the pressure on crowded cities. If you can’t resist the lure of more popular tourist destinations, sustainable travel ideas include visiting outside peak season and choosing local activities over “must-see” attractions, which are often tourist traps anyway.

To support local economies, choose tour operators that employ people who already live there and that work to preserve the mountains and coasts they visit – not destruct them. Some are better than others at environmental conservation, wildlife protection and supporting cultural heritage. Consider cycling or walking tours over cars and minibuses, but if the location demands driving, try to hire an electric vehicle or at least the smallest possible for your group.

When deciding where to stay, enquire into the responsible travel policies of potential accommodation, which might range from renewable energy and proper recycling to eco-friendly products and a ban on single-use plastics. And, in the battle against waste, one simple sustainable travel idea is to bring a reusable, self-filtering water bottle and coffee cup on your travels.

If you plan to shop, look for locally made products and local businesses. Cheap ‘indigenous’ replicas are not only offensive to indigenous communities but culturally insensitive and often poorly made. Finally, reject wildlife tourism – don’t swim with pigs, snorkel with dolphins or sit on elephants – in favour of innovative conservation projects.

Top tips on how to be a sustainable traveller

  • Travel by train where possible
  • Shun long-haul hotspots for destinations closer to home
  • Fly less often, and when you do, fly direct to reduce carbon emissions
  • Buy carbon offsets with your plane ticket
  • Put your money into businesses that pay directly into local economies
  • Swap overcrowded destinations for lesser-known gems
  • Pick eco-friendly villas and apartments
  • Always carry a self-filtering reusable water bottle
  • Avoid plastic bags and single-use plastics
  • Always recycle or stay in places with proper recycling
  • Use an eco-friendly booking site to find sustainable accommodation
  • Bike, walk or use public transport when exploring cities
  • Avoid wasting water and energy in your rented accommodation
  • Eat local food and buy locally made handicrafts
  • Don’t buy a holiday wardrobe – many items, bought on a whim, end up in landfill

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